2021 Tata Safari review
The legendary Tata Safari name graces the longer Harrier that was formerly christened Gravitas. Is it worthy of the badge?
Ever since it was announced that the longer Tata Harrier, unveiled as the Gravitas at the Auto Expo, would go into production as the Tata Safari, social media has been on fire. And let’s get straight to the crux of the matter, shall we? The 2021 Tata Safari doesn’t get rear- or 4-wheel drive. This is a Tata Harrier that has been lengthened by 60mm to accommodate a third row of seats, forward facing and not the prison-cell jump seats of the past. The Safari will be available in 6- and 7-seater versions, the former with captain’s seats in the middle row. And the target is obvious, the Toyota Innova Crysta — that Tata Motors tried, unsuccessfully, to attack, first with the Aria and then the Hexa. And of course the MG Hector is also in its cross hairs.
Watch the video where we introduce the 2021 Tata Safari to its parents here
Styling of the 2021 Tata Safari
The Tata Safari’s 2741mm wheelbase carries over unchanged from the Tata Harrier and at the front, save for chrome on the grille, there really is nothing different between the two SUVs. The styling changes to the Tata Safari start aft of the C-pillar where the Tata Harrier’s dipping roof line has been replaced by a more formal, rectangular section. There’s more glass area to give the third-row passengers more of a view out and it is allied to a new tailgate (not electrically operated), LED tail lamps and bumper (with fake exhaust tips). Credit though to Pratap Bose and his design team for making the Safari look proportionate and equally as good looking as the Harrier. This doesn’t have an ungainly rear overhang, the upright rear end still looks good and the stance remains spot-on what with the wheels having gone up by an inch to 18s. Weirdly though it shares the exact same design with the Harrier’s 17s.
Behind those 18-inch rear wheels lie disc brakes, replacing the Harrier’s drums and that has enabled the deletion of the ergonomically-flawed aircraft throttle-style handbrake of the Harrier.
2021 Tata Safari interiors
The Tata Safari gets an electronic parking brake along with hill hold assist to add to the safety features that includes six airbags and ESP. Otherwise what you see in the Safari is exactly what you get on the Harrier, except the Safari gets Oyster White upholstery for the seats. Keeping it clean will not be easy but the dual-tone treatment does make the cabin more airy and premium. There’s a panoramic sunroof which is optional on the top two variants. I must also mention that roof rails on the Safari are load-bearing, up to 140 kilos, but that’s on variants without a sunroof, so spend your money wisely.
The only real miss in the cabin is the infotainment screen. At 8.8-inches, is not only smaller than its rivals but the CarPlay and Android Auto projection doesn’t occupy the entire screen width, limited only to (the Nexon’s) 7-inches which makes the icons too tiny and difficult to operate while on the move. I can only assume Apple and Google must be charging a bomb to update the software, because we’ve written enough about this on the Harrier for Tata Motors to know that this is a problem that needs addressing.
New Tata Safari third row
Getting into the third row isn’t easy on any seven-seater and the Tata Safari doesn’t break any new ground. You contort into a few yoga poses to squeeze in and for me to fit in (I’m 5 foot, 9 inches) the middle row needs to slide forward. This doesn’t mean zero space in the middle row, mind, only reducing knee room from generous to adequate. But credit where credit is due, the taller roofline than the Harrier does allow the seats to be mounted a little higher (stadium seating as Tata Motors calls it) and not only can I can fit into the back but my knees aren’t rubbing against my nose. There are also air-con vents and USB chargers so the kids sitting back here can plug in and chill. The Safari also gets a six-seater variant with captain’s seats in the middle row and this, I suspect, will be a big reason for people opting for it over the Harrier. ‘Boss Mode’ is a handy lever allowing the rear passenger to slide the front passenger seat all the way forward. Allied to the generous space on offer these captains seats are excellent for being driven around in, what with the Safari also sporting fantastic ride quality.
2-litre diesel makes 168bhp
The Tata Safari doesn’t get a petrol engine. There’s only one diesel, the 168bhp tune of the 2-litre diesel sourced from FCA. The Safari is 100 kilos heavier than the Harrier but that doesn’t make any noticeable difference to the performance, the Safari accelerating with the same enthusiasm we’ve come to enjoy in the Harrier. The version tested here is the 6-speed manual and there’s enough grunt to get the front wheels to spin in first, if you switch off ESP. On tarmac too you get a bit of torque steer when you hot-foot it and it will do the 100kmph sprint in around 11.5 seconds which is quick enough for something of this size and weight. The shift quality of the gearbox is par for the course, with no trace of the vague and imprecise shift quality that we used to associate Tata gearboxes with. My pick though would be the 6-speed automatic, sourced from Hyundai, which will also see 100kmph in 11.5 seconds and is so well suited to the character of both the Harrier and now the Safari. It delivers eager performance and quick dowshifts when you want it to, and it can be relaxed when you are cruising. What this engine won’t do is deliver great fuel efficiency, neither with the manual and particularly not with the automatic.
Fantastic ride quality of the Safari
The extra weight over the Harrier obviously necessitated re-tuning of the dampers, but while they were at it the engineers also went about dialing-in an even better ride quality for the Tata Harrier. And it is obvious the minute you go over the first speed breaker and feel almost nothing. You’d think with bigger wheels the ride would get worse but, on the contrary, it is even better, even more planted, even more plush. The ride quality truly is fantastic! And it hasn’t come at the expense of handling as there isn’t any noticeable increase in either body roll or any float or wallow. The dynamics are aided by re-tuned (hydraulic) steering that is less fidgety than the Harrier’s setup; less reactive to road imperfections and now much calmer. I’d have preferred more steering weight at speed but engineers say further refinements are being planned before the Safari goes into series production. Nevertheless, the Safari is brilliant at hammering down broken patches of road, absolutely flattening everything in its path and retaining great body control. And that is the benefit of modern monocoque construction.
Is the 2021 Tata Safari worthy of the name?
That’s the big question, isn’t it? At the (virtual) launch Tata Motors’ design head Pratap Bose made a game effort of pointing out the kink in the roofline that apparently harks back to the original, but it’s evident the pivot to the Safari name happened way too late, for Bose and his team to make any meaningful design impact.
The Safari started life as a ladder-on-frame luxury SUV that has now transitioned to a modern, front-wheel-drive monocoque. Losing the ladder frame means the dynamics are a million times better, the 2021 Safari going round corners and yet hammering down bad roads with a brilliance that only the more expensive Jeep Compass can come close to. The interiors are way better and though you don’t get the lofty seating position the new one is more comfortable over long distances. And, finally, the thing we are all howling about — no 4x4 on the new Safari!
Fact is Safaris were rarely bought with 4x4. When Tata Motors say all their data and experience points to hardly any off-take for 4x4 variants, they’re right. They also say that if there is genuine demand 4x4 can be engineered into the platform, and that too is true because this is the old Discovery Sport’s D8 platform. They’ll need to throw in the more expensive independent rear suspension to accommodate the 4WD hardware, all of which will be a fair R&D expense. But will enough buyers spend the extra Rs 1.5 lakh for a 4x4 Safari?
I suspect not. And that makes the reincarnation of the Safari badge an inspired (if not last minute) marketing decision.